Since October, I have been to 24 countries and asked my three questions of over 450 people officially. That’s not including the several hundred other people I interact with along the way and casually explain the concept behind Big Shared World, which is usually followed by an incredibly stimulating conversation of their thoughts on the world and my project in general.
I have been back and forth from my family’s home in Minnesota six times amidst this journey, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for several weeks. When I go “home” I also like to include trips up north Minnesota to my family’s lakeside cabin, and trips to Washington DC where I catch up with my closest friends and professional contacts.
Enjoying being home in Minnesota with my brother and sister and niece Gianna
On the backend, I have been managing a website redesign which has me so proud to be writing this post from the beautifully constructed new site thanks to my friend Ryan’s family’s company SEADEV based in Danang, Vietnam where I visited just a couple months ago. After complimenting the website for Ryan’s music career he told me of the connection and I was immediately excited to get to Vietnam and work with the team myself to start plans for the revamp that you see here today.
With the SEADEV team in Vietnam (Ryan with the thumbs up in front)
A lot of people, my friends and family included, would say I’m doing great, accomplishing what I set out to do. But somehow, in this world where achievement is measured by the amount of likes on our most recent Facebook post, I feel behind my goals. I’m supposed to have thousands of followers by now, be blogging constantly, sharing my insights along the way, and leveraging those remarks to get picked up by relevant online outlets that could help promote my journey.
But that’s not MY journey. That’s my journey for the sake of others’ amusement. In the spirit of what I’ve set out to do, I have found myself constantly attracted to other peoples’ journeys. My reading list is full of female travelers who have uncovered a new place, and in the meantime, a new part of themselves, previously untapped and now forever changed. I have taken great note of individuals I come across who did something life altering, whether it was a cross country move, a defining relationship they started or ended, a topic they studied, or anything that took them on a different course from the one they had originally set out on or planned.
My journey is a very personal experience amidst a lot of global interactions. Sometimes it’s a person that’s totally different from me who says a word I’ve heard a million times before, but somehow in the way they use it, the word has a whole new meaning. For instance, when I was in South America I heard a lot of people say the biggest threat to humanity was “contaminación” which translates to contamination, or better known as pollution. Viewing environmental degradation from the meaning of the former has a much more profound implication to me, as something is not just dirty but impure. This started the follow up exploration of what development means to the people of these countries, and what the true costs and benefits are from their perspective. Many times my interactions have me learning about peoples’ relationships and family values, or thoughts on our society’s expectations for these. I’ve shared with many people along the way my own difficulty with my sister’s painful divorce. After nine years of building a life together, two of them as a married couple, our whole family was shocked when her husband went outside their marriage, all while their little daughter was just six months old. A large frustration from my end has been the role the family is expected to play in celebrating a couple’s love during their wedding and marriage vows, but the complete backseat expected to play when someone decides to dishonor those. It’s been difficult to process that this behavior is apparently perfectly allowable in today’s world of family values. Being the most pure person I know, I have watched my sister cope as her now ex-husband contaminated not only their marriage and family, but the essence of who my sister is and all the goodness she embodies. While my sister is coming to terms with her own life journey through this circumstance, it has been an intrinsic part of my own due to the closeness I have with my family, and the way in which we share our joys and sorrows together. Through sharing this story along my journey, however, I have had people share their stories of betrayal and hurt, and have heard extremely powerful examples that give me hope that my family’s own situation will be better than the one we had all planned for by making space for a more worthy future, despite the aggravating process to getting there. Another notable element of my personal journey is collecting new friends that thanks to the ability to stay connected these days, I hope will be in my life for decades to come, crossing paths along the way. Just this week, I went landmark hopping in Washington DC with Amanda, a Swedish girl I met in Cambodia while she was interning for Nomi Network, an anti-human trafficking organization I have a connection to. Not only are my new friends a positive takeaway from my Big Shared World journey, but I have seen connections with friends and acquaintances alike deepen as I have shared this experience of my personal findings amidst this global exploration I have embarked on.
As part of my time in Asia, I knew I wanted to attend a retreat of some sort. In this magically spiritual part of the world, I thought it was important to connect with a higher purpose in some way. Thanks to the power of Facebook and a friend of a friend liking a post, I came across the link for Realign Retreats, a weeklong experience in Bali, Indonesia specifically meant to help on-the-go entrepreneurial types unplug for the week and “download a new internal operating system” as they liked to say for us to relate to as we learned new practices and techniques for mediation and mindfulness. At the beginning of the week, we had to identify a word to focus on as our intention for the retreat. Mine was “clarity.” It was less about Big Shared World and more about the personal clarity I hoped to experience in order to allow greater focus on the objectives of BSW. In the end, and especially after a day of silence, I really just missed home a lot and realized that taking a whole week to focus on my personal life only made me homesick for the people who were supporting me from the other side of the world. A fellow retreater had the intention word “enough.” I didn’t relate with her word as much as some of the others, but it resonated with me this past week as I evaluate my own feelings of not doing enough. The gap between what is done and what is to be done makes for the feeling that no matter what we do, it’s never enough. When you wake up thinking you’re not doing enough, it’s not a motivating way to start the day. You feel the weight of all that isn’t rather than the pull toward all that has been accomplished and just the mere act of continuing that which helps to grow, even if it’s little by little.
Realign Retreat intention bracelets
We live in a fast paced world. From my many interactions with people about the world we live in, this is arguably not the most positive trait of our modern world. Sure, we have days that are so full of fun and excitement thanks to the ability to get around with ease, but there is a general longing I’ve heard for days where it takes a full day to accomplish something simple, but meaningful.
While acting as a tourist earlier this week with Amanda, I was intrigued during the tour of the Ford Theater (where President Lincoln was shot) to learn that his inaugural journey into the nation’s capital in 1861 was on a 13-day train tour from Springfield, Illinois. With the first airplane flying in 1903 and the first commercial airline founded in 1919, it’s a wonder to think of all the progress that’s been made in our world before the age of modern transport, modern technology, and modern social media updates and communication. With these musings, I cannot help but think of all the advancements we take for granted every day, and also wonder what means of connecting today will be outdated and surpassed in the times ahead.
Alongside the pleasure I take from reading modern travel journeys while on my own globetrotting adventure, I also love to gain insight from social commentaries of decades and centuries past. It’s an honor when people hear of my project and think of a legendary work such as Studs Turkels’ Working, which documented American workers in the early 1970s, a time largely focused on agricultural and industrial production. Going back further, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, a French Aristocrat’s observations on equality and individualism, among other impressions he made during traveling the United States over nine months in 1831. These works, full of Tweetable content, Instagramable images, and Facebookable insights, were developed in a time where thoughtful journeys worth sharing understood the value of time and space for contemplation and sincere reflection on what was being witnessed and experienced. Perhaps their historic relevance in today’s world is because of the timelessness that comes with heartfelt, topical, reflective analysis that is valuable both in the moment, and for generations to come.